For decades, academic historians have told us the same thing: John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a good president, but not a great president. In 13 polls conducted between 1982 and 2011, the youngest man ever to be elected president – he was only 43 – is ranked on average thirteenth best CEO in American history.
It’s not that hard to see why, if you think about it. Kennedy was president for less than three full years. His first year in office was, well… problematic, with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, followed by a weak and humiliating performance at the Vienna summit with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The first meeting between Western leaders and the communist worlds seemed to confirm the belief of many former politicians that the new president lacked both the gravity and the experience to stand up to the earthy Russians. Throughout his thousand-day presidency, JFK has had very limited success in pushing his progressive domestic reform programs through a conservative Congress.
Nevertheless, there have been some significant achievements. Kennedy demonstrated great restraint and discernment under sustained and relentless pressure during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He resisted calls from hawkish advisers to bomb missile sites in Cuba, and possibly started World War III. After the Soviets withdrew the missiles, Kennedy worked with Khrushchev to effectively defuse tensions during the Cold War, leading to a nuclear test ban treaty and the installation of a direct line between Moscow and Washington.
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